As any fool will tell you, the majority of the planet's best pop acts hail from Scandinavia. This, dear friends, is an undeniable fact and to challenge it is like arguing that black is white and vice versa. The latest Scandinavian pop mavericks certain to take up a place in your heart are Norway's Kid Astray, a motley crew of six friends (including a former junior golf champion, Italian Vogue model and piano prodigy), all in their late teens and early twenties, who knock out day-glo, indie-tinged dance-pop with the effortless ease of musicians with pure pop running through their veins.
Benjamin Giørtz, Elizabeth Wu, Alex Meek, Even Steine, Håkon Carlin and Jakob Bechmann – for it is they – may have only just finished school, but their musical studies have already earned them massive summer festival slots back home, critical plaudits from the likes of Rolling Stone and Radio 1 and a premiere of their brilliant Taking You With Me on Noisey. With sky-scraping hooks and earworm melodies, Kid Astray are here to make you fall in love with expertly-crafted music all over again.
The early incarnation of Kid Astray first formed in Oslo back in 2010, with the six members of the band meeting in high school. Studying music together in a school system that allows you to actually properly study music full-time, not just mess about on a piano in a school assembly hall for a few hours a week, the group quickly bonded over similar, electro-tinged indie-pop influences ranging from Passion Pit to Foster The People to M83 to The Wombats. In fact, two-thirds of the band had been messing about musically together for a few years before that. “It was kind of easy really,” laughs drummer Jakob of their inception as a band. “We've been together a long time. It's been the same band for a while really, it's just evolved.” Starting out like most bands do by rehearsing cover versions, the band's first song they wrote as Kid Astray – a band name inspired by a random lyric and a quick Google to find out the meaning of astray – Eternal Gifts picked up early radio play and landed them their first manager. “We had some friends who worked at radio and they could choose three songs to play and they chose our song,” explains Jakob. “Our first manager heard it in his car. So that was kind of how it all got started.”
With a determination beyond their tender years the band started looking for ways of getting their music heard, entering a demo contest held by Norwegian festival, by:Larm. With no new demos completed they were urged by their then manager to finish some of the ones they'd been working on. With more than a hint of youthful exuberance they decided instead to write a brand new song. From scratch. In just six hours. “That could have gone either way,” laughs Jakob, “but it turned out alright.” That's an understatement. The song they created, The Mess, not only earned them a place on the festival bill but it also won them Band of The Week on radio station NRK Urørt (or NRK Untouched), which led to even more regular radio play. “When we played the festival there was a lot of buzz around us so we got to play Rockefeller Music Hall, which is one of the biggest venues in Oslo, as an entirely new band,” continues Jakob, still sounding a bit shocked by it all.
The Mess also heralded a new sound for the band – a fizzing, joyously exuberant take on indie that's become more and more pop as the years have slid by. “We're probably more of a pop band right now than an indie band,” states Jakob. “We make pop songs and then the indie part comes from the production but it's all catchy.” Keen to strike while the creative iron was hot, the band then took two weeks off school to record their debut EP, Easily Lead Astray, in Benjamin's basement with him on production duties. Once again, they set themselves tight deadlines, with the EP's five songs written and recorded in around seven days. “We get really focused when we have tight deadlines and we get a lot of stuff done,” explains Jakob who, alongside Benjamin, is responsible for the majority of the songwriting. “I guess we were a bit lucky with that particular moment.” Luck, obviously, has nothing to do with it. The Mess' brilliance landed them more festival slots in Scandinavia as well as a record deal with Cosmos. From there they recorded their exuberant second EP, Taking You With Me – featuring the featherlight synth brilliance of the title track and the squelchy stomp of No Easy Way Out - this time in a proper studio in Liverpool and alongside Tord Øverland Knudsen, bass player with The Wombats.
With precision-guided melodies and hooks for days, Kid Astray's songs aim right for the pop jugular. “We often write about love because that's something we like,” Jakob laughs. “We don't want to write songs about things we don't know anything about. We want to keep it simple in a way. Most of the lyrics are just imaginary, it's not like we're putting our lives in the lyrics, but it's always stuff we can relate to.” One of the things they can relate to is that very Scandinavian trait of, ironically given their general amazingness, not wanting to stand out from the crowd, a malaise repelled on the amazing, Phoenix-esque pep of new single Back To The Ordinary (key line: “they're trying to make me change who I am”). Co-written with K-pop collaborator Jesper Borgen and produced by Joe Cross, who's previously worked with Hurts and Chlöe Howl, it's the band's boldest, most immediate statement yet and the perfect prelude to their forthcoming debut album.
Mainly produced by Cross in Manchester, the album – which will also include Take You With Me and No Easy Way Out from the Liverpool sessions - showcases the extent to which the band have evolved in the last three or four years. One of the band's favourites at the moment is the near six minute, low slung epic Not A Kid Anymore (“I love how this track turned out,” says Benjamin excitedly), while tracks like Walking and Diver take the template of those early songs and refines it all still further. “I think our sound's more thought through now,” says Benjamin with the air of someone who's been making music for a lifetime. “The sound has definitely expanded – it sounds a lot bigger.” This, you feel, is just the beginning for Kid Astray.
© Biglife Management 2011